You Feel Your Property is Pet Friendly, But Do Your Renters?

You Feel Your Property is Pet Friendly, But Do Your Renters?

Pet-Friendly vs. Pet-Inclusive Series

Written by Judy Bellack, Industry Principal, Pet-Inclusive Housing, Michelson Found Animals

September 20, 2022

Ask almost anyone in property management if their community is pet friendly, and the answer is almost always a resounding yes. “Of course we take pets,” or “we have a bark park and a dog-wash station,” or “we love cats and dogs in our community.”

But there’s pet friendly, and there’s pet friendly (translation, pet inclusive). What’s the difference? According to the Pet-Inclusive Housing Report, plenty.

For example, while 76% of rental housing operators consider themselves pet friendly, would you be surprised to learn that 72% of residents say pet-friendly housing is hard to find? Or that 24% of pet owners say their pet has been a reason for moving? Or, tragically, that 14% of pet owners have surrendered their pet as a result of their housing situation?

While here in the U.S. a majority of rental housing operators do allow some pets . . . thus the de facto definition of “pet-friendly community,” . . . there is clearly an enormous disconnect between this definition and how a pet-owning renter defines the same term. Not surprisingly, there are some very simple reasons for this disconnect: abundant breed restrictions, narrow size and census restrictions, and ever-increasing pet fees. Combine these factors with the current climate of higher rents and an affordable housing shortage, and the result is a lot of frustrated renters.

Pet Restrictions – Not So Pet Friendly

Only 8% of rental units in our country are free from all restrictions. Why is this a staggering percentage, and why should rental housing operators care? Here is some compelling information:

  • 70% of households in the U.S. own a pet currently, or about 90.5 million families (up from 67% in 2019); that translates to A LOT of renters/prospective renters
  • 69 million of those households have a dog(s), and 45.3 million have a cat(s); again, many of your renters/prospective renters
  • We spent $123.6 billion on our pets in 2021, up from $103 billion in 2020; clearly, we love our pets, take care of them and spoil them
  • When the majority of rental units – 92% –  have size (typically 20-45 lbs) and breed (typically 10-15) restrictions, that translates to millions of renters for whom your community is a non-starter, especially for market rate housing. Let’s get real; renters simply aren’t going to choose your beautiful property over their family member
  • In fact, our research shows that renters are compromising on budget, location, amenities, distance from work and number of bedrooms/bathrooms before compromising on pet inclusivity.

Yes, I can hear operators saying, “but occupancy levels are so high, why should I care if we aren’t capturing this market segment.” True, occupancies are high . . . but so is turnover! Our industry hasn’t moved the needle on turnover (50%) in forever with the exception of the pandemic bump, which is now long gone. Research shows that pet-owning residents stay an average of 21% longer than non-pet-owning residents. Less turnover means fewer turn costs (on the rise now more than ever) and less vacancy loss, and greater profitability for your organization. To read a compelling case study of one company that lifted restrictions and is now seeing 80% retention among pet owners, click here). 

As for the common objection that liability insurance restricts breeds . . . be sure to check with your carrier as more and more insurance companies do not include such restrictions.

Pet Fees – Can Be Prohibitive

59% of residents say pet-friendly housing is too expensive. Not terribly difficult to understand when faced with the following:

  • Refundable pet deposit (between $200-500)
  • Non-refundable pet fee (between $200-500)
  • Monthly pet rent (between $20-50)
  • Fees applied per pet (multiply all of the above)

Yikes! And when you consider that the average regular security deposit is one month’s rent vs. average pet damages of $210 (reporting with only 9% of pets), it does seem like a bit of overkill. The fact that the July average rental rate of $1,717 reflects an increase of 12.6% in July over the same period in 2021 (National Multifamily Report from Yardi Matrix), makes pet fees loom even larger for most renters.

One last thought here . . . just like winter is coming, a possible recession is coming; you’ll want to take a hard look at these fees through the lens of attracting more renters. 

Pet-Friendly Apartments vs. Pet-Inclusive Apartments – There’s a Huge Difference

As these multiple data points tell us, there is a huge gap in the perception of what being ‘pet-friendly’ really means – and as we have all heard a thousand times, perception is reality. However well-intended the industry’s standard pet policies are at the moment, they don’t go far enough toward welcoming pets. 

Consider this . . . the top ten most popular dogs according to the AKC in 2022 are Labrador Retrievers, French Bulldogs, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Poodles, Bulldogs, Beagles, Rottweilers, Pointers and Dachshunds. If we apply standard breed and weight restrictions to this group, that’s 6 breeds that don’t make the cut based on size or breed (or both). Effectively, this makes a community not very ‘pet friendly’ at all for pet owners who are seeking pet-inclusive housing. 

The bottom line is that attracting and keeping great renters means staying on top of evolving renter behaviors and prerequisites, as well as the actual data on reasons for any restrictions. The Humane Society of America, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Bar Association all recommend against formulating policies based on breed (and since most historically-restricted breeds are also larger dogs, it also calls size into question). More pet-inclusive policies will be good for residents, good for rental housing operators, and good for pets. And let’s face it, pets make us all better!